Belfast Telegraph

Harland and Wolff workers urge councillors to save ‘iconic’ Belfast shipyard

A delegation spoke to city councillors as dozens of their colleagues watched from the public gallery in City Hall.

Harland and Wolff workers and supporters at the steps of Belfast City Hall (Liam McBurney/PA)
Harland and Wolff workers and supporters at the steps of Belfast City Hall (Liam McBurney/PA)

Belfast shipyard workers have made impassioned appeals to save their industry as they addressed an emergency council meeting on the threatened closure of the famous Harland and Wolff yard.

A delegation spoke to city councillors as dozens of their colleagues watched from the public gallery in City Hall.

Workers have occupied the yard since Monday, holding a 24/7 picket as the clock runs down towards the arrival of administrators at the start of next week.

bpanews_98279155-6fdb-4a3f-863d-f45fb0fb64e7_embedded244443782
Harland and Wolff workers and supporters in the public gallery of Belfast City Hall (Liam McBurney/PA)

Harland and Wolff, birthplace of the ill-fated Titanic and a business synonymous with Belfast’s industrial heyday, has been unable to find a buyer after being put up for sale amid serious financial problems at its Norwegian parent company.

The council convened for a special meeting on Friday afternoon to debate a motion calling for intervention to help stave off closure.

In an emotional speech, steel worker and union representative Joe Passmore said the city’s proud shipbuilding tradition faced extinction.

When that closes and they build a marina down there, how is industry ever going to come back into Belfast? It's the beginning of the end Joe Passmore

“This is my city and I believe in it very strong, and I have a great affiliation and I am very proud to be from here, but I don’t want to see our greatest industry, that iconic industry, going down the drain,” he told councillors at the start of the meeting.

“I am not prepared to let that happen and all my fellow trade unions are not prepared to let it happen.

“What we don’t want you to tell us, we don’t want you to tell us what you can’t do, because we have had that all week.

“I don’t want you to tell us ‘tea and biscuits and there, there’. I have had that all week and I am sick of listening to it.

“I want to know what you can do to help because we are on our last legs right now. We don’t have much time to go before all these people go on the dole. When we lose these skills how are we ever going to get them back?

“When that closes and they build a marina down there, how is industry ever going to come back into Belfast? It’s the beginning of the end.

“Let Belfast take the lead on this, let Belfast take the lead for the whole of the United Kingdom and let us concentrate on our industry.”

Councillors applauded Mr Passmore at the close of his speech, as they did after each workforce representative addressed them.

Workers held a rally outside City Hall at Friday lunchtime ahead of the meeting.

The emergency session was called by SDLP councillor Brian Heading and Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn.

bpanews_98279155-6fdb-4a3f-863d-f45fb0fb64e7_embedded244443677
Harland and Wolff steel worker Joe Passmore addressing Belfast City Hall (Liam McBurney/PA)

At the meeting, councillors unanimously agreed to call on the Government to provide interim funding to allow the yard breathing space to secure its long-term future.

They also agreed to convene a forum between trade unions, the state-funded business support agency Invest NI, Stormont’s Department for the Economy and the Government, and called for an urgent meeting with Secretary of State Julian Smith.

Councillors said the creation of a green energy hub at the yard should be explored as one rescue option.

Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane said: “What we saw was a unified message leaving City Hall and that’s that there needs to be urgent action and attention given to the workers at Harland and Wolff.

“We heard from the workers and we heard from the unions and we are calling on, first of all, the Secretary of State to meet with council to discuss this and also for the British Government to take urgent action to save jobs.”

Mr Finucane said the yard could be saved.

“With political will anything can be done, so the British Government now needs to sit up and take urgent notice of this,” he said.

After the meeting, several of the workers posed for photographs beside a statue in the grounds of City Hall of one of the yard’s founders, Edward Harland.

Harland and Wolff, whose famous yellow cranes Samson and Goliath dominate the Belfast skyline, once employed thousands but currently has a workforce of around 130.

It has diversified away from shipbuilding in the last two decades and now primarily works on wind energy and marine engineering projects.

The Government has so far declined to intervene to bail out the yard, potentially in the form of nationalisation, insisting it is a commercial issue.

Susan Fitzgerald of the trade union Unite, which represents Harland and Wolff workers, welcomed the decision, however she warned time is running out to save the shipyard.

“The level of support workers have received over the past week, as well as the support among councillors today, shows that Belfast is determined to save our shipyard.  The question is whether London is listening, or is Boris Johnson’s government prepared to let Harland and Wolff sink?" she said.

“Workers appreciated the chance to put their case to the Council, and the debate showed that there is a wealth of ideas to not only save Harland and Wolff, but transform it into a world-leading green innovation centre. 

“Rather than throwing Harland and Wolff overboard, the Government needs to jettison its own ideological prejudices and throw the yard a lifeline. Re-nationalisation would allow a sustainable plan to emerge."

PA

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph